Volodymyr Zelensky: From Satire to Sovereignty

Volodymyr Zelensky, 41, a comedian-turned-politician has been showered by votes, getting a landslide against the incumbent president Petro Poroshenko in recent Ukrainian presidential elections. No political mantras used, no aggression shown, no word for policy reforms said, Zelensky managed to win in a sweepingly unconventional way by a margin of nearly 73 per cent. Instead, he sold positive messages like, ‘I want to see joyful faces around’, and used catchphrases like ‘no promises’ ‘no disappointments.’ The victory is the upshot of a very subtle campaign led by Zelensky through the social media and his long-run sitcom, ‘the servant of people’ which attracted a huge influx of people. It was, Moshe Reuven Azman, the chief rabbi of Kiev said, ‘a miracle’ occurred on Sunday night. However, his clinching to power as a comic actor might come as a surprise, but the process behind it was still political in nature.

To put it more bluntly, his appearance in his self-produced sitcom as a teacher-turned president is no wonderful coincidence, but a noteworthy political act. World politics has changed and so have the ways of attaining political aims, but what is clear is that one cannot exclude the features of politics while achieving those gains.

What’s more, he has also studied law, which as a subject is deeply intertwined with politics. It can be argued that he was much more a politician doing comedy than a comedian entered the politics. It was noticeable that along with Zelensky’s comic identity, his Jewish originality was also ignored during the campaign despite the fact that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Ukraine. Zelensky’s triumph is significant because he has utilized his charisma, in a short span of time, to secure the highest position of the country. Volodymyr Fesenko, director of Kiev’s Penta think tank, said the comic’s popularity was underpinned by ‘a political myth created by the TV series.’

While Ukrainians have taken it as a moment of rejoicing, political analysts of the country are suspicious of the development saying whether, a person, having a grip on his comic characterization on television can do equally well in the political arena. Indeed, he shall not be able to use those dramatic techniques in realpolitik, at least, not while having any strategic dialogue with Russia on eastern Ukraine. However, before making a cloud of suspicion over Mr Zelensky’s abilities to run the country effectively, merely on the basis of his background, it is requisite to ensure that world, which is governed by politically savvy, is more adequate and faultless. Isn’t it disastrous in terms of governance where peace does not appear to be an option? Why, in the world, long-fought wars and conflicts have endured, despite the bilateral and multilateral initiatives taken by world leaders with strong political background and knowledge? One who is more politically-correct is more exploiting the system.

Ukrainians have chosen Zelensky as a new face, they had desired. Melinda Haring, a Ukraine expert at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, said ‘it was clear the people wanted someone without the same baggage and connections to political dinosaurs.’

Furthermore, Zelensky is not the only conflicting figure in politics, but history is replete with such examples where actors have turned to be politicians. Fred Thompson, who was once a polished actor turned to politics, became the senator of the US, and served for nine years. Al Franken, former US senator, is a remarkable figure who despite his capabilities, had to face hardships because of his identity as a TV performer and comic author with zero political experience. Moreover, India is of much significance in this context where politics seems to be the final destination of many senior film and TV actors, governing as ministers or MPs.

Apart from the entire jigsaw, what matters most is commitment and credible approach towards the issues of which people are frustrated and are previously not taken on serious note i.e., corruption, mismanagement, crimes, and other civil society issues. Criticism and controversies would fade away if steps are taken in the right direction. In line with the presidential victory, Zelensky has to maintain a similar pace in the forthcoming parliamentary election as well, which will be a fate decider for him. It remains to be seen in reality, if Zelensky can do justice with the character he played on TV.

The author, Aciph Alee, is a researcher in PIIA. 

References:

Dmytro Gorshkov and Olga Shylenko, ‘Zelensky: Ukrainian clown or political wonder boy?’, The Times of Israel, 20 April 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/zelensky-ukrainian-clown-or-political-wonder-boy/

Tamila Varshalomidze, ‘Five things to know about Ukraine’s presidential vote winner’, Aljazeera, 22 Apr 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/5-ukraine-presidential-vote-winner-190422063051756.html

Andrew Higgins, ‘Ukraine’s Newly Elected President Is Jewish. So Is Its Prime Minister. Not All Jews There Are Pleased’, The New York Times, 24 April 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/24/world/europe/volodomyr-zelensky-ukraine-jewish-president.html

Ukraine election: Comedian Zelensky wins presidency by landslide, BBC, 22 April 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48007487

Programme for PIIA Conference on Climate Change

There is more glacial ice in Pakistan than anywhere on Earth but the glaciers are melting and Pakistan is considered to be the seventh most vulnerable country in the world in respect of climate change. The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs is holding a Conference on Climate Change: An Existential Challenge for Pakistan on 3 and 4 May 2019. The full programme is available below.

Video: PIIA event on Afghanistan

PIIA recently held a talk on the Afghan conflict and foreign forces are to blame for the Afghan conflict according to Rustam Shah Mohmand. Indeed, the former Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan urges Pakistan to shift focus away from India.“The India-centric approach will have to be reviewed because it doesn’t deliver much” he said.

Shafaq Khursheed: Beloved “Our Lady” of Paris

Clouds of grief surrounded Paris when the beloved Notre Dame caught the raging inferno at dusk of April the 15th. Notre Dame is French term for “Our Lady” which refers to Virgin Mary. As the name suggests, the sentiments of people for this medieval icon are profound. What happened to this beautiful cathedral is not just a tragic disaster for Catholics but for people across the globe who admired and respected this amazing feat of architecture and its significance. Millions of people witnessed the destruction with horror and silent prayers for its survival. The gothic edifice was built 850 years ago, the first stone was laid in 1163 but it took 200 years in addition to complete its structure. This beautiful icon has survived damages of French Revolution and the two World Wars largely unscathed and has been the French capital’s most famous landmark since. Around 13 million visitors from all over the world come every year to pray and view sacred items and to see the wonderful artwork and relics including Christ’s crown of thrones which he wore before the crucifixion.

Although there has been no loss of life in the tragedy but the damage of culture, history, art and heritage is too big to turn a blind eye to. Monuments like these are not only a source of attraction for tourists but they represent a certain era. They have the power to take one back in a particular time of history and serves a great opportunity of learning and imagination. Notre Dame represented the true cultural significance of French History. The building’s proud spire and wooden roof now lie in ruins and the interior almost entirely destroyed. The funds to restore the cathedral has topped 700 million dollars in just 24 hours and the French President Emmanuel Macron vows to make the monument stand tall again in a span of five years.

But the bottom line is, the reconstruction would just be an alteration of the rich medieval gothic architecture which it was famous for and even that is not possible in just five years time. Lastly, this is an alarming reminder for the global community and especially the third world countries to preserve heritage sites and buildings as well as maintain their classicism and own them for they are the true representation of how civilized a nation is.

The author, Shafaq Khursheed, is a researcher at PIIA. Continue reading

Video from PIIA event on CPEC

Professor Matthew McCartney , a renowned specialist in development in South Asia, addressed the members of the PIIA on 31 March 2019. “CPEC really does seem like the culmination of a much longer economic cooperation with China for Pakistan. So here is a long-term committed China-Pakistan relationship unlike what the USA is criticised of,” he said. “Still, there may be a lot more going on other than China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative outside Pakistan that is happening inside it, which is crucial to know for a big project of $60bn, that is CPEC.” The video for the event is below.

Video of our recent event on the current standoff between India and Pakistan

The video of our event on the future of current stand-off between India and Pakistan is available below. Retired Lt Gen Tariq Waseem Ghazi and ambassador Najmuddin Shaikh were the distinguished speakers at this occasion.

Brexit: The Chequers White Paper

An embattled Theresa May made the proposals in this paper to her cabinet and her Brexit Secretary, David Davis, resigned. Then Boris Johnson resigned as Foreign Secretary to humiliate her further. Trump gave an interview to the Sun trashing May’s proposals and said that Boris Johnson would make a better Prime Minister. He said that he told May how to do Brexit but she would not listen to him. But the catty Mrs May was able to pull one back and Trump repeatedly held hands with her during their joint press conference commending the prime minister as a “terrific woman” and saying that he would want her as a friend and not an enemy and that she was “doing a fantastic job” . The Chequers White Paper and press conference are below. Prior to these events Trump had played disrupter-in-chief at NATO and accused Germany of being a Russian pawn because of its reliance on Russian gas.